What, then, does this biography offer that is unavailable from the “Autobiography?”
Quite a lot, as it turns out. It draws on interviews with friends, colleagues, and family members to offer a variety of viewpoints on the man and his work. It details the social and political context in which Malcolm lived, shedding light on the extraordinary power of the Ku Klux Klan during Malcolm’s childhood, describing the quasi-Islamic organizations that preceded the Nation of Islam, and explaining the beliefs and inner workings of the Nation and of the two organizations that Malcolm founded toward the end of his short life: the Islamic group Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the pan-African Organization for Afro-American Unity. (Malcolm’s political views and plans for the future were to have appeared in three chapters at the end of the Autobiography, which Haley cut before publication.)
Marable emphasizes the importance of Marcus Garvey’s back-to-Africa movement in the development of Malcolm’s thought. His father, killed in a suspicious streetcar accident when Malcolm was six years old, had been a staunch Garveyite, and Garvey’s followers proved to be fertile ground for conversion to the Nation of Islam. Garvey was an essential source for Malcolm’s doctrine of black pride and self-sufficiency, and for his later belief in the solidarity of people of color worldwide.
The biography includes considerable detail on Malcolm’s 19-week visit to Africa in 1964, during which he met with several heads of state and prepared to bring the case of America’s blacks to the United Nations as a matter of human rights. Marable recounts Haley’s efforts to convince Malcolm to put his story on paper and to make it personal rather than polemic. He describes the years of surveillance by FBI and police, noting that one NYPD wiretapper was so impressed by Malcolm’s views on jobs and education that he tried to get his superiors to change their policy toward him.